Be Afraid, House Dems, Be Very Afraid (or Not)

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Not to beat a dead horse, but Republicans continue to write ominous memos and give cryptic quotes about the political danger House Democrats face if they pass the Senate health bill. They’re publicly naming names now in an effort to scare wavering or vulnerable House Democrats into voting against the bill. (Steve Driehaus and Nick Rahall, watch out.)

There are, I think, two things to be said about this. First, while all legislative votes are obviously fair play when it comes to campaigns, it seems a little silly to plan to hammer House Democrats for voting in favor of unsavory things like the Cornhusker Kickback, when in the same (or next) breath, those House Democrats will eliminate it – if all goes according to the Democrats’ plans. Sure, they might vote for it before they vote against it – ahem, John Kerry – but, in this scenario, it won’t become law because House Dems didn’t want it to.

Second, the Republican scare campaign rests on a very shaky foundation. The whole strategy is based on the possibility that this fall Republican candidates will air television commercials lambasting these Dems for voting in favor of the original Senate bill with its carveouts for Nebraska, Louisiana and Florida, for instance. How much more hurtful will this be than television commercials lambasting Dems for voting for “a government takeover of health care”? In addition, how credible are GOP claims that health care will be the number one issue in the fall elections? (Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says, “Every election in America this fall will be a referendum on this issue.”) As close as it might seem, Election Day is a long way off and there are plenty of other issues – terror trials, jobs and financial regulation, for example – that will dominate between now and then. Plus, Democrats will be able to tout a number of immediate benefits of reform that Republicans will have a hard time criticizing – like no more pre-existing exclusions for children and allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance policies until age 26.

The question is, how effective are the GOP threats? The warnings issued to House Democrats in today’s memo from Jon Kyl and Eric Cantor rest on logic like this:

…at one time or another, as many as twelve Senate Democrats have expressed concerns about using reconciliation to facilitate enacting a health care overhaul.

Those twelve Senate Democrats represent nine states. At a minimum, the Senators who vote NO on final passage of reconciliation will be putting House Democrats from their states who may have already voted YES in a difficult position—House Democrats like these:

Congressman Marion Berry (AR)
Congressman Rick Boucher (VA)
Congressman Russ Carnahan (MO)
Congressman Gerry Connolly (VA)
Congressman Joe Donnelly (IN)
Congressman Brad Ellsworth (IN)
Congressman Baron Hill (IN)
Congressman Steve Kagen (WI)
Congressman Charlie Melancon (LA)
Congressman Alan Mollohan (WV)
Congressman Glenn Nye (VA)
Congressman Tom Perriello (VA)
Congressman Nick Rahall (WV)
Congressman Mike Ross (AR)
Congressman Ike Skelton (MO)
Congressman Vic Snyder (AR)

All of this said, the political danger for Dems increases the more convoluted their parliamentary strategy gets.